April 28, 2020
Week 1 Quarantine-Elisa was really going places. She was taking the kids hiking, she was reading books outside, and she was soaking up oodles of sunshine and thoroughly enjoying the fresh, cool air. She was dressing cute and wearing makeup and doing her hair. She was determined to make the best possible use of the food she had on hand, and felt irritated when Todd brought home boxes and boxes of candy-flavored cereal, because candy-flavored cereal didn’t fit her vision for a healthy quarantine diet. She thought about Shakespeare, and how he supposedly wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony & Cleopatra during the bubonic plague, and she was filled with giddy excitement as she anticipated the onslaught of creative output she was sure to produce during the Plague of 2020. She optimistically joked about being in the best mental and physical shape of her life by the time the quarantine ended.
Week 6 Quarantine-Elisa is a hot mess. Her hair is pink-ish and desperately needs a trim, and she dresses like a confused hermit who’s trying and failing to be both comfortable and stylish at the same time. She has replaced book-reading with television-watching, and has discovered that a handful of Cinnamon Toast Crunch Churros cereal really hits the spot. She has failed to write the next great American novel during these last six weeks, and assuages her disappointment with copious amounts of baked goods, washed down with a nice crisp glass of Pinot Grigio.
(“Todd, I’m talking about what a slob I’ve become in my blog post this week. It’s funny.”
“But you aren’t a slob.”
“I am! I wear junkie t-shirts, I’ve gained a few pounds, and I really need a haircut.”
“I thought I was going to accomplish so much.”
“You do, like, a million things every day.”
“I’m clearly losing it.”
“Yeah, no you aren’t.”
“This feels like a weird argument. I’m going to write about what a slob I am.”
“And I’m going to disagree with it.”
“You always disagree with me.”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes you….never mind. I love you.”)
Do you remember hearing about COVID-19 for the first time? It was January 22nd for me, which I know because I received an email from a friend that day thanking me for recommending the book Station Eleven, which, if you don’t know, is a novel about a virus that kills lots of people. She wanted me to know that she had read and enjoyed the book, and then she ended the email by commenting on the crazy news coming out of China. “Huh,” I thought. I googled China. I read a few headlines. Then I stared off into space for a moment, wondering whether I’d be part of a badass musical theater troupe in the post-apocalyptic world, or if I’d just die quietly on a beach instead. (You’ve gotta read the book.)
Our cat probably wants us to all go die quietly on a beach. She keeps staring at us with a displeased expression, like “Didn’t you people used to, like, leave sometimes?” I know all the dogs out there couldn’t be happier that their people are constantly at home with them now, but our cat doesn’t seem thrilled about the current state of affairs. Cats really are the true introverts. Not that that was ever in question.
I’ve seen some confused opinions out there about quarantine-era introversion and extroversion, mostly coming from extroverts who seem to assume that introverts are having the time of their lives during this thing. Let me be perfectly clear: For introverts (like me) who have other people living in our homes, this season isn’t exactly an introvert’s paradise, and it’s not because we’re suddenly discovering a long-buried extroverted streak in ourselves. This season is hard because we are never alone anymore. Todd used to go to work. The kids used to go to school. Even Will had a few hours a week at preschool — a few hours a week where there was literally no one in the house besides me and my possibly-homicidal cat. And in the pre-quarantine world, even when everyone was here we at least had options. Todd could take the boys to a movie, or I could go wander around the mall. Knowing those things were options brought a sense of equilibrium to our time together, the solitary yin to our social yang. But now we’re never not together and, like my cat, sometimes I glare at my poor sweet family and say things like “Are you people still here?”
I’m not trying to claim that introverts have it harder than extroverts. I’m saying this is a crazy-making/character-building season for all of us. Extroverts can’t get their life-giving social time, and introverts can’t get their life-giving solitary time, and so we’re all muddling along, and our energy tanks our low. Sometimes we find ourselves stretching and growing in wonderful ways, and sometimes we find ourselves stress-eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch straight out of the box.
Speaking of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Will (5) was mad at me this morning. Was he mad because I was mean to him? Because I stole his Nerf gun? Because I called him names? Was he mad because he disagrees with my position on how to interpret pandemic data? No, shockingly, it was none of those things. He was mad because he asked for more cereal, and I gave him more cereal, but it wasn’t the right amount more. “That’s not how much I wanted!” he cried, and then he sat with his arms crossed, glaring at his bowl and refusing to eat, which is a ridiculous thing to do when you are hungry and there is food right in front of you.
I’ve been yapping on about how exhausting it is to have my family around me all the time, which is also a ridiculous thing to do. I adore my family. Todd and the boys are kind of the best (when no one is whining about cereal proportions), and I have nothing to complain about. Our house has plenty of room. There are places I can go, doors I can close, couches I can curl up into if I truly need to be alone, and Todd is more than happy to hang out with the boys to help accommodate that. The outdoors is still there, and I can walk out into it if I want to. I can go for a drive. I can walk around Target. Like Will and his cereal, my options are limited but they aren’t gone. I get moments of solitude here and there, portioned out to me like a second bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and then I whine “But that’s not how much I wanted!” I guess I can be as ridiculous as a grumpy five-year-old. Lucky for all of us, cereal and solitude aren’t the only things we have to be thankful for. Even when our attitudes fall short, there’s more than enough grace for each moment too.
So this was Quarantine Week 6. I hope you’re finding ways to enjoy your literal and metaphorical cereal.